@StateDept Finally Solves Mystery of the Doctored Daily Press Briefing Video — Elvis Did It!

Posted: 3:19 am ET
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After calling the editing mystery of the video tape “a bit of a dead end,” and after Secretary Kerry called the doctoring of the Daily Press Briefing tape “stupid and clumsy and inappropriate,” the State Department informed the press on June 8 that the agency’s Office of the Legal Adviser (L) is continuing to look into the matter.

Also see:

 

On August 18, the State Department’s spox updated members of the press of the internal review.  The Legal Adviser’s office apparently did talk to 30 current and former employees. The office has now come up with “a fact-finding review” that was submitted to Secretary Kerry, the Congress and the Inspector General. The review is inconclusive — spox says it was a deliberate act, they don’t know why or who was responsible for asking the “edits” but it can’t be nefarious or anything like that.

Note that HFAC Chairman Royce has previously requested an investigation by the Inspector General. If there is an OIG investigation in addition to the Legal Adviser’s review, we could be looking at dueling reports.  It looks like the Legal Adviser’s review might be released publicly at some later date but the spox did not indicate when.  Meanwhile, there is one lawsuit already.

Via the Daily Press Briefing with official spox John Kirby:

Finally, I want to update you on the issue of the portions of video missing from a press briefing here on the 2nd of December 2013. Now, as you know, this is something we’ve talked about before. I promised you that I would update you when we had completed our review. We’ve done that, so if you’ll bear with me, I’ll give you what I have.

As you know, when this matter came to light, many of us, including Secretary Kerry, had concerns and questions as to how and why this had happened. And so, at the Secretary’s request, the Office of the Legal Adviser spent the last several months looking deeper into the issue. All told, they have spoken with more than 30 current and former employees at all levels of seniority and they’ve gone through emails and other documents to see what information might be available. They have now compiled their findings and a description of their process into a fact-finding review, which has been provided to the Secretary. We’re also sharing it today with Congress and the inspector general.

Here’s the bottom line: We are confident the video of that press briefing was deliberately edited. The white flash that many of you have noticed yourselves in that portion of the video is evidence enough of human involvement. Indeed, a technician came forward, recalled making the edit and inserting that flash. What we were not able to determine was why the edit was made in the first place. There’s no evidence to suggest it was made with the intent to conceal information from the public, and while the technician recalls receiving a phone call requesting the edit, there is no evidence to indicate who might have placed that call or why.

In fact, throughout this process we learned additional information that could call into question any suggestion of nefarious activity. In addition to the fact that the full video was always available on DVIDS and that the full transcript was always on our website, the video was edited in a choppy manner, which made it obvious that footage was missing. We also found that the video likely was shortened very early in the process, only minutes after the briefing concluded and well before the technician who recalled making the edit believes the request was made to make the edit, and in any event before the technician would have been involved in the video production process. It is possible the white flash was inserted because the video had lost footage due to technical or electrical problems that were affecting our control room servers around that time.

Finally, we have confirmed that even if the video was edited with intent to conceal, there was no policy in place at the time prohibiting such an edit. So upon learning that, I think you know, I immediately put a policy in place to preclude that from ever happening. We will also be consulting now with the National Archives and Record Administration about whether any changes to our disposition schedule should be made to address the press briefing videos. Disposition schedules are rules governing the record – official record keeping. The current disposition schedule notes that the written transcript is a permanent record.

Now, I understand that these results may not be completely satisfying to everyone. I think we will all – we would all have preferred to arrive at clear and convincing answers. But that’s not where the evidence or the memories of so many employees about an event, which happened more than two and a half years ago, have taken us. We have to accept the facts as we have found them, learn from them, and move on.

The Secretary is confident that the Office of the Legal Adviser took this task seriously, that they examined it thoroughly, and that we have, indeed, learned valuable lessons as a result. For my part, I want to thank them as well for their diligence and professionalism. We are and I think we will be going forward a better public affairs organization for having worked our way through this.

With that, I’ll take questions.

Via US Embassy London/FB

You did it?

 

QUESTION: All right. Well, before we move on to Syria, let’s finish up this videotape episode, or at least dig into it a little bit more. Can you remind me just from that lengthy statement – you think it was not nefarious because it was done badly and because it was done quickly? Is that the essential argument?

MR KIRBY: I said that we weren’t – we aren’t sure whether it was done with intent to conceal or whether it was done as a result of a technical problem. The bottom line is, Brad, it was inconclusive. Some of the additional information that does lead us to think that a glitch is possible here is because of the choppy nature of the cut, which is when – look, when we do the daily briefings, we always cut the top and the bottom, right? So we have an ability to do editing on the – at the beginning and the end of a briefing. Obviously, we have to do that. And we have procedures in place to do that in a nice smooth, clear, very deliberate way, so that when we post the video of today’s briefing, it looks like a totally encompassed, very professional product. So we have the ability to do this in a very professional way.

This cut was not done that way. It was done in a choppy fashion that’s not consistent with the way we typically do that. I’m not saying that that means for sure it was the result of an electrical problem. I’m just saying that it certainly gives us pause, and we have to think about that.

The other aspect of this is the timing. So roughly 18 minutes after the briefing was concluded, the video that was uploaded was shortened – shorter than the actual briefing itself – which would convey that a cut of some kind was made very, very quickly after the briefing, sooner than when the technician remembers – much sooner, actually, than when the technician remembers getting a phone call asking for the cut to be made. So again, we may be dealing with a memory issue. Maybe that’s inconsistent. Or maybe there was – there could have been a technical problem that caused the video to automatically be shortened when it was first uploaded so quickly – 18 minutes after the briefing, which is pretty fast.

So it’s not impossible or inconceivable that there was an intent to conceal information – in other words, nefarious intent here. We’re not ruling that out. But we also cannot, based on the evidence that we have gained, rule out the possibility that there was some technical problem and then to make it known that a cut had been made, a white flash was inserted.

QUESTION: But there were no technical problems on the other videos that still exist.

MR KIRBY: Right, but they don’t —

QUESTION: If that were the case, don’t you think someone would come and admit that rather than nobody of the 30 witnesses you interview can actually remember what happened? It seems like such a ridiculous explanation it shocks me that you’re actually providing it here. But okay.

MR KIRBY: Okay, is that a question or you just want to berate me?

QUESTION: Well, no, I – John, I just think it’s – I think it’s really strange that you’re saying that. I think someone would remember if it were a technical glitch. And how could you say there was a technical glitch, there was a possibility of that, when there’s no other evidence of those glitches on the other videos that exist?

MR KIRBY: I’m saying I can’t rule it out, Justin. There’s also no evidence that anybody did this with a deliberate intent to conceal. We just don’t know. And you might —

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: And I understand – look, as I said at the – as I said at the end of my lengthy statement, that I understand that the inconclusive nature of the findings is not going to be all that satisfying to you. It wasn’t all that satisfying to the rest of us. You don’t think that we would like to know exactly what happened? We just don’t. They interviewed more than 30 current and former employees. They looked at emails and records, and there simply wasn’t anything to make a specific conclusion here.

QUESTION: Let’s put our satisfaction aside for a second. Is this conclusion that you’ve reached, whatever it concludes or not – is that satisfying to the IG? Is the IG now done with his investigation?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’ll let the IG speak for themselves. I’m not aware that the IG has taken this up as – to investigate.

QUESTION: Well, the review, sorry, that you’ve called it.

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is – again, I cannot speak for the IG. As you know, they’re an independent entity. What I can tell you is that the Office of the Legal Adviser kept the IG informed as they were working through the process. And it’s our understanding that they’re comfortable with the work that was done.

QUESTION: And then lastly, the technician – is there any punishment to him – or I think it’s – she’s been referred to as “her” in the past – to her as a result of cutting the tape, not remembering who told her, not remembering any of the details regarding this?

MR KIRBY: No. There’s nothing to punish anyone for.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: As I said at the outset, there was no policy prohibiting this kind of an edit. There is now, but there wasn’t at the time. So there’s no wrongdoing here that can be punished.

James.

QUESTION: Can we stipulate in advance of my questions that in pursuing them, I can be absolved of any charges of solipsism or self-centeredness?

MR KIRBY: You’ll have to define solipsism for me. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Believing that one’s self is the center of the universe. I just happen to be —

MR KIRBY: I would never think that of you.

QUESTION: Thank you. (Laughter.) I’m glad to have that on the record. First of all, so that we are clear, what you are telling us is that some unknown person called this technician to request that an edit that had in fact already been made by some unknown force be made again?

MR KIRBY: What I’m saying is, James, we do not know. We have the technician who has recalled getting a phone call to make an edit to the video. And the technician stands by the recollections of that day.

QUESTION: But the edit had already been made.

MR KIRBY: But it’s unclear – well, it’s unclear. Again, 18 minutes after the briefing, we know that the video uploaded – the version that was uploaded to be used on YouTube and our website was shortened by the same amount of the cut. Now, it’s unclear how it got shortened. It’s unclear whether that was the result of an electrical malfunction or it was the result of a deliberate, physical, intentional edit.

QUESTION: But it is the edit we’ve all seen?

MR KIRBY: It is.

QUESTION: Okay. And so –

MR KIRBY: And what was inserted – that the technician did remember getting a phone call, did remember inserting a white flash to indicate that video footage had been missing. So we know – and the white flash is very clear evidence, as I said, of human involvement in the process. But we’re dealing with recollections and memories that are two and a half years ago. And I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember what I had for breakfast yesterday. So I mean, there is – you have to allow for some of that here, and that’s why it’s inconclusive. I’m not at all standing up here telling you that I’m confident that the – to phrase it your way, that there was a – that a call was made to make an edit that had already been done. I just don’t know that that’s what happened.

QUESTION: What is the time gap between the uploading in the video and the time when this technician recalls that call having come in?

MR KIRBY: Let me see if I can find that for you.

QUESTION: And does the video automatically upload to the website?

MR KIRBY: No, it doesn’t.

QUESTION: So it’s possible that someone could have done the edit before it was uploaded.

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second, Ros. I’m trying to answer one question at a time here.

Look, I – James, I just don’t have that level of detail. I think we had —

QUESTION: But you said it’s quite some time – weeks, months, a year. What do we think it was?

MR KIRBY: No, it’s usually – it can take up to a day to get the press briefings uploaded online. It just depends. And so I just don’t have that level of detail here.

QUESTION: In arriving at the conclusion that you’re unable to make a conclusion as to whether a nefarious intent was involved here, it seems that nobody has taken into that assessment the actual content of the briefing that was actually erased or wound up missing. And so I want to ask you point blank: Doesn’t the content of the missing eight minutes tell us something about the intent? It just happens to be, in fact, the one time in the history of this Administration where a spokesperson stood at that podium and made statements that many, many people across the ideological spectrum have interpreted as a concession that the State Department will from time to time lie to preserve the secrecy of secret negotiations. That coincidence doesn’t strike you as reflective of some intent here?

MR KIRBY: Again, James, two points. First of all, the results of the work that we did are inconclusive as to why there was an edit to that day’s press briefing. I wish I could tell you exactly why and what happened.

QUESTION: Did the content factor in?

MR KIRBY: But – hang on, please. But I don’t know. Certainly, there was, as we work through this – I mean, everybody’s mindful of the content of the Q&A that was missing from the video. I think we’re all cognizant of that Q&A. I can go back, certainly, and look, but it’s my understanding that the content, the issue about the content, had been discussed in previous briefings. It wasn’t the first time that that particular content had been discussed.

Number two, as I said, it was always available in its entirety on DVIDS and it was always available in the transcript, so if – again, if somebody was deliberately trying to excise out the Q&A regarding that content, it would have – it would be a pretty ham-fisted and sloppy approach to do it, because the transcript was never not complete and the DVIDS video was always complete, and there were – hang on a second – and there was media coverage that day regarding that exchange, right? And so —

QUESTION: I remember it well.

MR KIRBY: I’m sure you do. So it wasn’t as if the content inside that eight minutes or so was not available to the public immediately that afternoon.

QUESTION: Two final areas here, and I will yield. I appreciate your patience. Nothing in what you’ve said so far today suggests that the contents of this investigation or its conclusions would be classified. And so when you tell us that the report done by the Office of the Legal Adviser is going to be shared not only with the Secretary but with members of Congress, what is it that prevents you from sharing that full report with the public?

MR KIRBY: Nothing. And we have – we intend to make sure that you get access to it. We’re still working through logistics with that, but nothing precludes that.

QUESTION: We look forward to a timetable when you can make it public.

Lastly, did the Office of the Legal Adviser arrive in the course of this review at any conclusion as to whether this video itself constitutes a federal record?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, as I said at my opening statement, we’re working now with the National Archives and Records Administration to take a look at what I’ve called disposition schedules, the rules governing what is and what is not considered a public record. But at the time and as of today, the transcript is considered a permanent record, official record, of these daily briefings.

QUESTION: So the answer to my question is the Office of the Legal Adviser did not make any determination as to whether this video constitutes a federal record, yes or no?

MR KIRBY: No, and that wasn’t their —

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: First of all, James, that wasn’t their task. Their task was to try to find out what happened. And (b) it’s not up to the Office of the Legal Adviser to determine what is or what isn’t a permanent, official record. That’s determined by NARA, and that’s why we’re consulting with them right now.

QUESTION: The videotape in question was shot with a State Department camera, correct?

MR KIRBY: Yes.

QUESTION: It was uploaded to the State Department website by a State Department technician, correct?

MR KIRBY: Yes.

QUESTION: The State Department website is maintained by State Department employees, correct?

MR KIRBY: Yes.

QUESTION: This video on the State Department website is in a separate place on the website from the transcript, correct?

MR KIRBY: Yes.

QUESTION: One has to push a different button to access the video from the button that one pushes to access the transcript, correct?

MR KIRBY: That’s my understanding.

QUESTION: I have no further questions.

QUESTION: Okay, I have one question just to make sure.

QUESTION: It’s like a court of law. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: It sounds like a federal record to me, John. It would be very counter-intuitive – it would be very counter-intuitive to —

MR KIRBY: Let James – let James talk.

QUESTION: It seems very counter-intuitive to imagine that a videotape of a State Department briefing that is shot, uploaded, maintained by federal employees would not itself be a federal record —

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: — considered distinct and separate from the federal record that is the transcript, which is typed by separate employees and maintained on a separate place on the website.

MR KIRBY: So look, let me address that because it’s a fair point. A couple of things. There’s no requirement for us, no requirement, even today, to upload videos of this daily press briefing on my website, our website, or on YouTube, on our YouTube channel. We do that as a courtesy, but there’s no requirement to do that. And that’s one.

Number two, the entire video was also streamed into the DVIDS program, which is a different channel. I’m not a technician, but it’s different, a completely different channel, which is why DVIDS had it complete without any problems. And of course, the transcript is and we have considered the transcript as the official record of these daily briefings. And we consulted NARA at the outset of this process, and they concurred that in their view the transcript is an official record of these daily briefings. But they’re also willing to talk with us about going forward whether or not we need to take a look at those disposition schedules to see if that definition needs to be expanded to include video.

So, James, we actually asked ourselves the very same questions you’ve just interrogated me on, and we’re working – and I mean that in a —

QUESTION: But not with the same panache. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: No, not with the same self-centeredness. (Laughter.) But honestly, we asked ourselves the same questions. In fact, we still are, James. And so we’re working with the National Archives on this and we’ll see where that goes.

QUESTION: So let me get this straight. If the DVIDS video was the same – shot by the same camera, it’s the same thing, and it had no problems, I’m having trouble understanding why you would assume and conclude that it’s so possible that your version would have some technical glitch that needed to be edited. I thought we got past the “it was a technical glitch” line. I’m really surprised to see that back in the narrative, because if their version is clean, why —

MR KIRBY: It’s a different – first of all, it’s a different system.

QUESTION: It would be highly unlikely, John, that there would just be some minor problem on your end. It seems implausible and not worth mentioning as a defense.

MR KIRBY: Justin, look, I’m not going to dispute the confusion that you’re having over this. I can tell you, as I said, we would have all preferred that there was some clear, convincing evidence of exactly what happened. But there isn’t. I can’t make it up. I can’t – I can’t just pull out of thin air an exact reason for what happened.

QUESTION: Well —

MR KIRBY: So because I can’t – but because I can’t and because the Office of the Legal Adviser couldn’t, based on interviews, based on looking at documentary evidence, we can’t rule out the fact that there were – and there were some server problems that we were having around that time. I can’t tell you with specificity that it was on that day and at that hour, but we were having some problems. And it’s not out of the realm of the possible that the white flash was inserted rather – for nefarious purposes, but more to indicate that there was some missing footage and we wanted to make that obvious.

QUESTION: All the – I mean, all the evidence – who would come to the technician 18 minutes after the briefing and say, “I noticed that there was a technical” – telling the technician there was a technical problem. It just doesn’t seem —

MR KIRBY: This technician is not – this technician does not work in the office that typically edits the daily briefings.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: Look, Justin, I can’t possibly —

QUESTION: But it was someone within Public Affairs, not in the technician’s office, who instructed —

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: — the change be made. That’s what you guys have said. And the idea that that person would have noticed some —

MR KIRBY: We’ve said that that is what this individual recalled.

QUESTION: — would have some knowledge of a technical glitch that the technician needed to be instructed on, all of it seems totally implausible. That’s not a question.

MR KIRBY: Okay.

QUESTION: I have —

MR KIRBY: But all I can say to you is I can’t answer the question you’re asking. We have tried to answer the question you’re asking, and we have spent many months now working on it. And it’s – the results are inconclusive in that regard. I can’t change that fact, and that is a fact.

QUESTION: I just have a clarification point, just real quick, real quick.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: Hang on just a second. Hang on, just —

QUESTION: Very small one.

QUESTION: One quick – yeah, mine’s a minor point too.

QUESTION: Just one – one thing just from another person other than the immediate group there. We’ve jumped around this issue and around it —

MR KIRBY: Are you separate from the media group here?

QUESTION: I’m different from the immediate group up there.

QUESTION: He said “immediate.”

MR KIRBY: Oh, the immediate group.

QUESTION: So this sounds like a very thorough internal probe, more than two dozen people interviewed. Did the probe identify who from Public Affairs made the call requesting the change? Yes or no.

MR KIRBY: No.

QUESTION: Unable to do it?

MR KIRBY: Unable to do that.

QUESTION: Sorry, can you just remind me? I just need to clarify these things. The request to the technician was to do what? I recalled it was to cut the tape.

MR KIRBY: The technician recalls getting a phone call —

QUESTION: Yes.

MR KIRBY: — from somebody in Public Affairs to edit the video. That is still the memory of the technician and that’s reflected in the review.

QUESTION: So why did the – so what did they edit if it was already – if this section of the tape was already missing, what did that technician actually do?

MR KIRBY: The technician remembers getting the phone call and inserting a white flash to mark the fact that the video had been shortened.

QUESTION: So it’s – so the request was to edit the video, and then the technician decided upon herself to insert a white flash as a transparency flasher or something?

MR KIRBY: The technician recalled inserting the white flash so that it was obvious that a cut had been made.

QUESTION: But the request wasn’t to insert a white flash. The request was to cut the video, wasn’t it?

MR KIRBY: Again – again – I’m not disputing that. That is what – that is what the technician remembers – getting a call —

QUESTION: So why did this very obedient and forgetful technician —

MR KIRBY: Hang on, hang on, hang on.

QUESTION: — suddenly decide they were going to insert white flashes?

MR KIRBY: The technician remembers getting a call to edit the video, has recalled and come forward and said that that edit was made and that a white flash was inserted. I can’t – I’m not – I’m not at all, and we’re not disputing, the recollections. As I said at the outset, in working through this, additional information came to light which also forces us to consider the possibility that there might have been a technical problem here that truncated, shortened some of that video since so shortly after the briefing – 18 minutes, which is much faster than we typically get to compiling this and posting it in an – on a normal day – happened. So nobody’s challenging the account —

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: — but it’s because we have additional information that we’ve now uncovered that makes it inconclusive on our part.

QUESTION: I just have two more questions. One, did the technician indicate where she came up with the white flash idea? Was that just being really enterprising?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I’m not an expert on this. As I understand it —

QUESTION: Or was that the —

MR KIRBY: — or I’ve been told that that is not an unusual —

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: — procedure for making a deliberate cut and to make it obvious.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: But I don’t – I’m not an expert.

QUESTION: Why didn’t – why did nobody in your entire apparatus think of using the good tape that was sent to the DVIDS and just using that?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have an answer for you on that. Again, it was always available on DVIDS. And I’m not – I wasn’t here at the time, so I don’t know how much visibility there was above the technician level on this and that technician’s supervisor. I just don’t know.

QUESTION: But if the white light was meant as some sort of effort at transparency, one, you would have said something, probably indicated somewhere when you posted it, “missing tape,” no? Not let people hopefully see a white light and divine what that means.

MR KIRBY: I can’t go back —

QUESTION: Secondly, wouldn’t you just use the good tape and just put it in?

MR KIRBY: Brad, I can’t go back two and a half years here and —

QUESTION: Well —

MR KIRBY: — and try to get in the heads of people that —

QUESTION: — you’ve raised this like spectral theory that maybe everybody did everything perfectly and we just misinterpreted it.

MR KIRBY: No I did not. And I never called it a spectral theory, okay?

QUESTION: I did.

MR KIRBY: What I’m saying is I can’t go back two and a half years and try to re-litigate the decision making. The technician remembers getting a call, making a cut, inserting a white flash, talking to the supervisor about it. Conversations that happened above that level I simply can’t speak to because I don’t know. And it would be great if we could go back and rewrite the whole history on this, but we can’t do that. All I can do is learn from this and move on. And now we have a policy in place that no such edits can happen without my express permission and approval before it happens. And as I said, there was no policy at the time against this kind of thing, so there’s no wrongdoing.

QUESTION: John —

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

QUESTION: No, I just have —

QUESTION: No.

QUESTION: Can we move to Syria?

QUESTION: I have one more. I have one more.

MR KIRBY: Are we all – are we done on the video?

QUESTION: No, I have one more just to wrap this up, because you just said that edits cannot be made without your express knowledge and consent. What is the workflow now for recording these videos of these briefings and other events, and uploading them to the website? What is the basic workflow?

MR KIRBY: The workflow hasn’t changed. The workflow – it’s the same procedure that’s been used in the past. And again, I’m not an expert on the way our technicians – who are very professional, very competent – do their jobs. I didn’t change anything about that process except to insert a rule that there will be no editing of briefing, press briefing videos, without my express consent and approval beforehand. But I did not change the process.

QUESTION: That’s understood. But I will say as someone with 24 years in news, television news, there’s always another pair of eyes looking at what someone does in terms of work. And so I’m asking, one, once you record a video, now that everything is digital, it’s pretty easy to upload things pretty quickly. You don’t need 24 hours. Number two, if you are uploading something, there’s going to be someone in the process – a media manager, a producer, an editor – who’s going to verify that the work was done and that the work didn’t have any technical glitches. Who is checking up on the work of the technician, or is the technician simply working and ticks off a box, I’ve done this task, and moves on?

MR KIRBY: There is a process that supervisory personnel are involved in. I don’t have the exact flowchart for you here today. But I’m comfortable that the process works, and it works every day. It’s going to work today. It worked yesterday, and it worked the days before that. I’m not worried about that. I think everybody understands our obligations and our responsibilities.

I can’t speak for the specifics in this digital environment. Again, I’m not a technician; I’m not an expert at this. But I’m comfortable that our staff is competent and trained, have the resources available to do this in a professional way, and that they’ll continue to do that.

QUESTION: Just a few last ones. Thank you very much, John. Do you stand by the statements you made when you first started briefing on this particular subject that this entire episode reflects a failing to meet your usual standards for transparency?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I do. I mean, again, we don’t know exactly what happened here, but obviously, we would never condone an intent to conceal, if that’s, in fact, what happened. Now again, I can’t say that that happened. But if it did, then yes, obviously, that would not meet our standards. And frankly, and if I might add, it didn’t meet the standards of my predecessors either. Jen Psaki, Marie Harf, Victoria Nuland – none of them would ever abide by any kind of intent to conceal information from a daily briefing.

QUESTION: The reason I ask is because when you started briefing on this subject in May, you told us that this wasn’t a glitch, that it was an intentional and deliberate erasure. Now, following the investigation by the Office of Legal Adviser, you seem to be retracting that and saying we honestly can’t say one way or the other. And so if your previous comments were to the effect that this represented a failing of transparency, I wonder if you would like an opportunity to retract those as well.

MR KIRBY: I said at the time that it was a deliberate intent to edit and I said it again today. I mean, obviously there’s human involvement here.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: So we know that there was a deliberate edit to the video. What I can’t say, based on the work now that they’ve done, is why that occurred.

QUESTION: Well —

MR KIRBY: But James, if it was – and we may never know, right? – but if it was an intent to conceal information from the public, that’s clearly inappropriate.

QUESTION: You mentioned that more than 30 employees were interviewed as part of this process. Were those interviews recorded or transcribed?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know.

QUESTION: You stated that those 30 employees ranged the gamut of seniority. Does that – are we to interpret that remark as an indication that the Secretary himself was interviewed?

MR KIRBY: The Secretary was not interviewed for this.

QUESTION: To your knowledge, did any of the people who were interviewed have counsel with them while they were interviewed?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I’d have to consult the Office of Legal Adviser for that. I don’t know.

QUESTION: To your knowledge, did anyone refuse to take part in the investigation or be —

MR KIRBY: I know of no refusals.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: In fact, the Office of the Legal Adviser made very clear that they were very grateful and appreciative of the support that they got from people that work in Public Affairs today and people that have worked in Public Affairs in the past.

QUESTION: Thank you.

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John Kerry Breaks Hillary Clinton’s Travel Miles as SecState, Plus JK’s Inner Circle Album

Posted: 2:30 am EDT
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In November 2013, David Rohde, a columnist for Reuters, and a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize penned a lengthy piece for The Atlantic on How John Kerry Could End Up Outdoing Hillary Clinton. Below is an excerpt:

“… (If you ask long-serving diplomats—the vast majority of whom are politically liberal—to identify their favorite secretary, they will name Powell.) Before taking office, Kerry conducted long interviews with every living former secretary of state—Kissinger, George Shultz, Baker, Madeleine Albright, Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and Clinton—and set out to model himself after Shultz, who, in six and a half years serving under Ronald Reagan, was seen as a combination of the two prototypes, both a great diplomat and a good manager. “Beyond going around doing things as secretary of state,” Shultz told me in an interview, “you have to recognize that you have managerial responsibilities.”
[…]
Richard Armitage, who served as Powell’s deputy secretary of state, praises Clinton but says she was poorly served by her aides. “My view is that she was pretty sheltered,” he told me. “They were not interpersonally pleasant, and they were very protective of her. You can get into a cocoon.”
[…]
Kerry also works in a cocoon, albeit one of a different sort. Very quickly he earned a reputation in the State Department for being aloof, keeping to himself, and not bothering to read staff memos. Diplomats outside Kerry’s inner circle complain that they have little sense of his priorities or plans. One former aide told me Kerry is “lovably unapproachable.” Career State Department officials complain to journalists that, under Kerry’s leadership, power has become so centralized among the secretary and a small coterie of his aides that decision making in the building slows to a crawl during his frequent overseas trips. Others in the State Department say Kerry has a kind of diplomatic attention deficit disorder—he shifts from topic to topic, changes his schedule often, and fails to focus on long-term strategy. State Department employees say morale in the building is lower now than under Clinton, despite Kerry’s early diplomatic achievements.
[…]
Colin Powell told me that before he became secretary of state in 2001, he received a letter from George Kennan, the famed foreign-policy thinker, then in his 90s. Kennan warned Powell about the dangers of traveling too much—of prioritizing activist diplomacy over providing the White House with solid foreign-policy analysis. “This office has in recent decades, in my view,” Kennan wrote, “been seriously misused and distorted.” Kennan urged Powell to minimize his travel and focus on advising the president. Powell gave a copy of Kennan’s letter to Kerry. So far, Kerry is not following the advice.

The Rohde piece was written slightly over two years ago. As Secretary Kerry winds up his tenure in the next 12-13 months, it is likely that somebody will revisit this topic again.  Meanwhile, it doesn’t look like his globetrotting days are going to let up anytime soon.  In late November, Secretary Kerry travelled to France, Belgium, Kosovo, Serbia, Cyprus, and Greece (November 30-December 4, 2015).  He came back briefly and is now off again, to Paris, from December 7-11, 2015 to attend the 21st UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP21).

Since assuming office in February 2013, Secretary Kerry has traveled 422 days. As of this writing, he has traveled  a total of 957,744 miles with visits to 77 countries according to state.gov. (Secretary Clinton covered 956,733 miles in her four years on the job. Condoleezza Rice’s record is 1.06 million miles in the air).

About that small coterie of aides, below is an album of sorts with some members of the Kerry inner circle in the last couple of years:

 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with his chief of staff, David Wade, and State Department Spokesperson Jennifer Psaki before his airplane departs Moscow, Russia, on May 8, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with his chief of staff, David Wade, and State Department Spokesperson Jennifer Psaki before his airplane departs Moscow, Russia, on May 8, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

9:59 p.m., September 11, 2013 - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sits in the aisle of his Air Force jet as he chats with, from left, Executive Secretary John Bass, Deputy Chief of Staff Jonathan Finer, Counselor to the National Security Advisor Salman Ahmed, and Undersecretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman about upcoming negotiations with Russian officials focused on eliminating Syrian chemical weapons. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

9:59 p.m., September 11, 2013 – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sits in the aisle of his Air Force jet as he chats with, from left, Executive Secretary John Bass, Deputy Chief of Staff Jonathan Finer, Counselor to the National Security Advisor Salman Ahmed, and Undersecretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman about upcoming negotiations with Russian officials focused on eliminating Syrian chemical weapons. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry prepares with his Deputy Chief of Staff, William C. Danvers, for a joint press availability in Istanbul, Turkey, April 7, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry prepares with his Deputy Chief of Staff, William C. Danvers, for a joint press availability in Istanbul, Turkey, April 7, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom, and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah discuss the Secretary’s upcoming trip to Africa during a meeting at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on April 25, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom, and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah discuss the Secretary’s upcoming trip to Africa during a meeting at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on April 25, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, flanked by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and State Department Executive Assistant Jennifer Davis, bangs the gavel to begin a meeting of more than 60 anti-ISIL coalition parties held on December 3, 2014, at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. [State Department photo /Public Domain]

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry leads his staff in an airborne rendition of “Happy Birthday” on April 15, 2015, as they celebrate the birthday of and final trip for State Department Executive Director Kathleen Hill, a career Foreign Service Officer departing to a new assignment after organizing Secretary’s visit to Lubeck, Germany, and his 59 preceding international trips across 765,000 miles since he assumed office in February 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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State Department Chief of Staff Jon Finer speaks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on July 29, 2015, before he joined U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey, U.S. Energy Secretary Dr. Ernest Moniz, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew in testifying about the Iranian nuclear deal before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington, D.C. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and a group of advisers – State Department Executive Assistant Lisa Kenna, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Egypt and Maghreb Affairs John Desrocher, and Chief of StaffJon Finer – sit with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain and his advisers on March 14, 2015, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, at the outset of a bilateral meeting amid an Egyptian development conference. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry chats with State Department Chief of Staff Jon Finer and Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations Frank Lowenstein before addressing reporters on November 24, 2015, following his meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the Muqata’a Presidential Compound in Ramallah, West Bank. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Senior Aide Jason Meininger laugh as bar patrons at the Navigator Inn invite the Secretary in for a drink as he walked through Iqaluit, Canada, just below the Arctic Circle, after the United States assumed a two-year chairmanship of the body during a meeting of its eight member nations and seven Permanent Representatives on April 24, 2015. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, accompanied by State Department Deputy Chief of Staff Tom Sullivan, walks through the U.S. Embassy in Paris, France, after addressing members of the bilateral Mission, UNESCO, USOECD and their families on November 17, 2015. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, accompanied by State Department Deputy Chief of Staff Tom Sullivan, walks through the U.S. Embassy in Paris, France, after addressing members of the bilateral Mission, UNESCO, USOECD and their families on November 17, 2015. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Jonathan Finer and Jennifer Park, @JohnKerry's Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief of Staff.

Ambassador to Seoul Mark Lippert with Jonathan Finer and Jennifer Park Stout, @JohnKerry’s Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief of Staff. May 17, 2015 via Twitter

 

And let’s not forget Ben F. Kerry, Secretary Kerry’s best friend in Washington, D.C. who apparently performs ribbon-cutting events on occasion, and all he gets is an extra homemade kibble.

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Related posts:

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Keeping Up With the State Department Spox’s Explainer on the Clinton Separation Statement

Posted: 12:42 am EDT
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The hunt for Secretary Clinton’s OF-109 Separation Statement was all over the news last week, although it seemed, oh, so much longer.  Fox News was searching for it. The Daily Caller found a whistleblower who alleged double standard.  Media Matters  called out the conservative media’s own double standard. Add the official spokesperson of the State Department and we got a free roller coaster ride plus coupons.

It looks like 12 FAM 564.4 is the relevant regulation um, excuse me, “recommendation” in the Foreign Affairs Manual. Waiting for the spox to clarify that although the briefing is mandatory, signing the separation statement is really optional and voluntary!

12 FAM 564.4 Termination
(TL:DS-88; 02-13-2003) (Uniform State, AID, OPIC, TDP)
a. A security debriefing will be conducted and a separation statement will be completed whenever an employee is terminating employment or is otherwise to be separated for a continuous period of 60 days or more. The debriefing is mandatory to ensure that separating personnel are aware of the requirement to return all classified material and of a continuing responsibility to safeguard their knowledge of any classified information. The separating employee must be advised of the applicable laws on the protection and disclosure of classified information (see 12 FAM 557 Exhibit 557.3) before signing Form OF-109, Separation Statement (see 12 FAM 564 Exhibit 564.4).

 

Via DPB, March 17, 2015 with State Department Spokesperson Jennifer Psaki:

QUESTION: So when you say – it is my understanding that all employees – and I think you even alluded to this when it first came up, that all employees were required to sign this document on completion of their government service. Is that not the case?

MS. PSAKI: Required is not the accurate term. It’s – we’re looking into how standard this is across the federal government and certainly at the State Department. But there’s no – we’re not aware of any penalty for not signing it.

QUESTION: Well, at the State Department, though, is it – it is common practice, though, is it not, for employees, at least employees below the rank of Secretary of State to sign such a thing – to sign such a document when they leave? Is it not?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I just don’t want to characterize how common practice it is. Certainly, I understand there’s been a focus on this form. We’ve answered the question on whether or not Secretary Clinton signed the form, and we’ll see if there’s more statistics we can provide about how common it is.

QUESTION: It’s your understanding, though, that not completing this form is not a violation of any rule or regulation?

MS. PSAKI: It’s not a violation of any rule, no.

QUESTION: And when you said that you have found no record of her two immediate – was it her two immediate predecessors?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

 

Continue reading

AFSA Politely Asks the State Dept: Is Adherence to the Foreign Affairs Manual Optional For Some?

Posted: 1:01  am EDT
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The Daily Press Briefing of March 11  toppled me off my chair when I heard the official spokesperson of the State Department, Jennifer Psaki said from the podium, “The FAM is not a regulation; it’s recommendations.”  (see NewsFlash: “The FAM is not a regulation; it’s recommendations.” Hurry, DECLINE button over there!).

On March 17, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) wrote to Arnold Chacon, the Director General of the Foreign Service and the State Department’s top HR official requesting clarity on the applicability of 3 FAM to career and political/non-career employees of the oldest executive agency in the union.

We would be grateful if you could help us understand if there is, in practice or by law, any difference in how these standards apply to and are enforced for non-career appointees as opposed to career employees, both Foreign Service and Civil Service.

AFSA noted the March 10 press briefing, where “Spokesperson Jen Psaki referred to 3 FAM as “guidelines” as distinguished from “law”:

As the Foreign Service, we have always understood the FAM to consist of regulations to which we must adhere. AFSA would like to ask if non-career appointees are formally subject to all of the rules and regulations in 3 FAM.

Screen Shot 2015-03-18

Foreign Affairs Manual

 

3 FAM is the section of the Foreign Affairs Manual that covers personnel:

This volume of the FAM sets forth the policies and regulations governing the administration of the personnel system applicable to the Department of State. Regulations adopted jointly by the Department of State and other agencies (e.g. Broadcasting Board of Governors, USAID, Commerce, Agriculture, Peace Corps,) are so identified wherever they appear in this volume. (see pdf)

Volume 3 of the FAM is organized around eight major personnel topics, each of which is assigned a series of nine chapters of 89 subchapters. In so far as is practicable, each subchapter is restricted to a single topic. Since some topics relate to both Foreign Service and Civil Service employees, while others relate to employees of only one of the services, subchapters, or parts thereof, contain a legend, which indicates coverage.

☞Chapters in the 1000 series contain general information on the organization of the FAM and general policies and regulations relating to all Civil Service and/or Foreign Service employees.

☞Chapters in the 2000 series contain regulations and policies, which govern the day-to-day operations of the Foreign Service and Civil Service personnel systems.

☞Chapters in the 3000 series contain regulations and policies which govern Civil Service and Foreign Service pay, leave administration, benefits (e.g. Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB), Federal Employees Group Life Insurance (FEGLI), Office of Worker’s Compensation Program (OWCP), Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE), Reasonable Accommodations), allowances and travel. In addition, Chapters in the 3000 series contains special program regulations and policies such as Transit Subsidy Program, Student Loan Repayment Program (SLRP), and Professional Liability Insurance (PLI).

☞Chapters in the 4000 series contain regulations and policies which govern the conduct of Foreign Service and Civil Service employees; provide penalties for misconduct; establish grievance and appeals procedures; and provide for awards for outstanding performance.

☞Chapters in the 5000 series contain regulations and policies, which govern labor management relations in the Department.

☞Chapters in the 6000 series contain regulations and policies, which govern the administration of the retirement program for Civil Service and Foreign Service employees.

☞Chapters in the 7000 series contain regulations and policies, which govern the administration of the Foreign Service National personnel system for Overseas Employees.

☞Chapters in the 8000 series contain regulations and policies, which govern the administration of the various overseas employment programs administered by the Office of Overseas Employment (HR/OE).

If it comes from the podium, it is official.

So it is, of course, understandable that AFSA is concerned when she calls the FAM “guidelines.”  But equally troubling to hear her say from the official podium that the FAM is not regulations but recommendations, as if somehow adherence to it is voluntary and optional. We’ve asked state.gov for a comment and the nice person there told us they’re consulting with their subject matter experts and hopefully will have something for us.

Anyone has an in with the folks at the Office of the Legal Adviser?  Would you kindly please ask them to wade in on this?

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The spox sat on a stump and did she not thunk this crappy script stunk?

Posted: oo:29 am EDT
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Or see video Foreign Policy Follies with Jen Psaki here via YouTube.

Oh, here below is one from Democracy Now:

 

We agree that the Maduro accusations have been ludicrous for a while now (see Venezuela: Nicolas Maduro’s Theory of Everything — Blame The Yanquis!). But when you add, “as a matter of longstanding policy, the United States does not support political transitions by non-constitutional means …” we tripped all over the hallways and stairwells and have all sorts of bruises to show for it. In times like this, we revert back to an old habit of getting drunk on bad rhymes. Who writes these scripts? Do they practice with  a mirror? Folks, there’s a whole crowd of people on the Internets who can’t quit laughing over this. And they’re not just laughing at Ms. Psaki, or the State Department. They’re laughing at the United States of America.  Ay dios mio! You, okay with that?

 

Transcript via DPB on February 13, 2015:

QUESTION: President Maduro last night went on the air and said that they had arrested multiple people who were allegedly behind a coup that was backed by the United States. What is your response?

MS. PSAKI: These latest accusations, like all previous such accusations, are ludicrous. As a matter of longstanding policy, the United States does not support political transitions by non-constitutional means. Political transitions must be democratic, constitutional, peaceful, and legal. We have seen many times that the Venezuelan Government tries to distract from its own actions by blaming the United States or other members of the international community for events inside Venezuela. These efforts reflect a lack of seriousness on the part of the Venezuelan Government to deal with the grave situation it faces.

QUESTION: The U.S. —

QUESTION: Sorry, Jen —

QUESTION: Sorry. The U.S. has – whoa, whoa, whoa. The U.S. has a longstanding practice of not promoting – what did you say? How longstanding is that? I would – in particular in South and Latin America, that is not a longstanding practice.

MS. PSAKI: Well, my point here, Matt, without getting into history —

QUESTION: Not in this case.

MS. PSAKI: — is that we do not support, we have no involvement with, and these are ludicrous accusations.

QUESTION: In this specific case.

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: But if you go back not that long ago during your lifetime, even – (laughter) – this is not that long since —

MS. PSAKI: The last 21 years. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well done. Touche. But I mean, does “longstanding” mean 10 years in this case? I mean, what is —

MS. PSAKI: Matt, my intention was to speak to the specific reports.

QUESTION: I understand, but you said it’s a longstanding U.S. practice, and I’m not so sure – it depends on what your definition of “longstanding” is.

MS. PSAKI: We will – okay.

QUESTION: Recently in Kyiv, whatever we say about Ukraine, whatever, the change of government and then the beginning of last year was unconstitutional, and you supported it. The constitution was —

MS. PSAKI: That is also ludicrous, I would say.

QUESTION: — not observed.

MS. PSAKI: That is not accurate, nor is it with the history of the facts that happened at the time.

QUESTION: Yes, the history of the facts. How was it constitutional?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think I need to go through the history here, but since you gave me the opportunity – as you know, the former leader of Ukraine left of his own accord —

QUESTION: He did not leave his country.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. I think we know the facts here, and we’ll certainly give you an article on the facts to take a look at.

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NewsFlash: “The FAM is not a regulation; it’s recommendations.” Hurry, DECLINE button over there!

Posted: 12:30 pm EDT
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“I don’t have the FAM in front of me. I can certainly check and see if there were certain policies, if there were regulations. The FAM is not a regulation; it’s recommendations.”

That’s a direct quote from the official spokesperson of the U.S. Department of State, Jennifer Psaki, who managed to change internal agency policy in just eight words during the Daily Press Briefing on March 10, 2015. Here is a screenshot from the transcript that you may look at just as soon as you’ve picked up your jaw from the floor.

Screen Shot 2015-03-11

click on image for larger view

 

Dammit! Yahoo called the FAM “regulations.” It obviously has no idea there’s something wrong with its search engine!

Screen Shot 2015-03-09

 

Okay, let’s try searching for this at the State Department’s official website at state.gov.

Screen Shot 2015-03-11

click image for larger view

Well, it turns out, those folks running the official agency website also have no idea they have this  all wrong. Calling the FAM “regs” is not acceptable because that stands for “regulations.” This would make us all think that the FAM is regulations. And according to the official spokesperson, the FAM is really just recommendations.  And if so, this must mean that the Foreign Affairs Manual is just a suggestion or proposal for the best course of action for State Department employees. Are folks subjected to it free to decline some or all those recommendations?

The Office of Directives Management must now change the URL from http://www.state.gov/m/a/dir/regs/ to http://www.state.gov/m/a/dir/recommendations/  — otherwise this will all lead to confusion.

But this is actually great news.

That FSO who was imposed charges to the amount of $14,804.01 by the State Department for packing, shipping, storing and repacking household effects (HHE) that included 44 boxes of marble tiles weighing 5871 pounds – may now go back and ask for a refund.  The specialist who was disciplined “for improper personal conduct and failure to follow regulations” following an extramarital sexual relationship with a local national and not informing his wife about the affair, may now go back and tell the FSGB that he’ll decline the State Department’s recommendations.

FSGB No. 2009-041:  The Department argues that the regulation in effect in 1999, 6 FAM 161.4 (currently 14 FAM 611.5(2)) clearly prohibits shipment and storage of construction materials as HHE.  As a Foreign Service Officer, grievant is responsible for knowing all of the applicable regulations.

FSGB No. 2011-051 (pdf):  Department regulations state the applicable policies regarding employee conduct that may result in disciplinary action. Grievant was obliged to know these regulations and to conform his conduct accordingly. 3 FAM 4130, Standards for Appointment and Continued Employment, provides guidelines for when disciplinary action may be taken against an employee. 3 FAM 4138 provides that disciplinary action may be taken for:

criminal, dishonest or disgraceful conduct (see section 3 FAM 4139.14); . . . conduct which furnishes substantial reason to believe that the individual may be or is being subject to coercion, improper influence, or pressure which is reasonably likely to cause the individual to act contrary to the national security or foreign relations of the United States; . . . conduct which clearly shows poor judgment or lack of discretion which may reasonably affect an individual or the agency’s ability to carry out its responsibilities or mission.

This is going to put the entire Foreign Service Grievance Board out of work, right?

Anyone who’s ever been cited for FAM infractions and/or been disciplined as a result of the contents in the Foreign Affairs Manual may consider ringing their lawyers.  All employees, presumably, are now welcome to decline any or all recommendations under the FAM?

Arrggghhh! Quit laughing. This isn’t funny!

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Attn: Delivery Man Schlepping Boxes With 55,000 Emails to Foggy Bottom, You’re Wanted at the Podium! (Corrected)

Posted: 12:04 am EST
Corrected title: 12:37 am EST
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

Hurrrrrrry!

The exchange below, courtesy of state.gov:

QUESTION: Okay. Can you say whether you will wait until the review of all 55,000 pages is done before you release any, or will you look at one and say, “Okay, this one is okay,” and then turn it over?

MS. PSAKI: I would not anticipate we release page by page, but I don’t have any prediction for how the process will run at this point in terms of the public release.

QUESTION: And did you ever get the answer – and I – you may have, I don’t know; and I apologize because I wasn’t here – whether these were handed – were given to you by her office electronically or in paper?

MS. PSAKI: In paper.

QUESTION: So they pulled up a backloader or something into the – (laughter) – I mean, what did they come in with, a truck full of – 55,000 pages is a lot, so —

MS. PSAKI: That is a lot, yes.

QUESTION: So I’m just curious, were they boxed up? Were they – are they just all jumbled together? Are they in order of date or by topic?

MS. PSAKI: There were several boxes back —

QUESTION: Several?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: 55,000 pages, several boxes? (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: That is quite a few boxes, which speaks to – it did cover – these do cover the span of her time at the State Department. In terms of what the boxes look like or the order, I don’t have that level of detail.

QUESTION: Okay. But I mean, you believe – and you’re taking them at their word that they separated out all of the emails from her private account that are business related, and that that 55,000 pages is the universe but – and you think that they’ve been cooperative. So that would imply that you don’t think that they just dumped them in all in a box willy-nilly – or boxes – and gave them to you.

I mean, how exactly is this review going about? Is it chronological? Are you just picking up a box – or whoever’s doing it – just picking up one box here and going through this? I’m just wondering if there’s any order or system to —

MS. PSAKI: I certainly understand your questions. Because this is just underway – obviously, this is new as of last week, as you just outlined in your question – I don’t have anything at this point to outline in terms of the order of the process. If there’s more details, I’m sure we can share those.

QUESTION: I believe the question came up last week about whether IRM, your Information Resources Management people, or DS had taken a look at the arrangements that she had at her home in Chappaqua and determined that they were okay and not – that they met standards for not being compromised.

MS. PSAKI: It did come up last week. I don’t have any update on that at this point.

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Shuffling the Spoxes: Admiral Kirby Out, Psaki to White House, New Spoxes Race Is On!

 Posted: 11:05 PST
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Yesterday, we heard that the Pentagon Spokesman, Read Admiral John Kirby is stepping down to make way for a new civilian spokesman under the new Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter.

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We’re going to miss Admiral Kirby from that podium, and we’re going to miss the fake one, too. This one via @Doctrine Man sums it up:

John Kirby brought three things to the podium that are a rare combination in this business: credibility, character, and competence. Together, they equated to a presence that was second to none. He earned the respect and admiration of the Pentagon Press Corps, built relationships that spanned to the soggy side of the Potomac, and calmly managed each and every crisis that ballooned within the walls of The Building (and there were quite a few). In a tenure that lasted just 14 months (I know, it seemed like more), he became a calm voice of reason in Washington unlike any other, eclipsing both the White House and State Department press secretaries at a time when there was more than enough bad news to go around.

 

Today, news broke that the State Department Spokesperson Jennifer Psaki is returning to the White House as communications director:

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The State Department spokesperson, more than the White House spokesman is the public face of the United States to the world.  The spokesperson is not only speaking on behalf of Foggy Bottom but on behalf of the United States.  Here’s our short list for the next podium king/queen:  We’d like to see one who can stay on message, and still be credible, one who inspires respect not derision; a sense of humor and some humility would be nice, too. We’d like to see an intelligent, natural performer with solid international affairs experience up that podium. And of course, somebody  eloquent and quick witted to spar with Matt Lee.

 

State Dept Spox’s Hot Mic Moment: “That Egypt line is ridiculous.” No Kidding

— Domani Spero
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

Via The District Sentinel/Sam Knight

 

Here is an excerpt from the transcript of the 12/1/14 DPB:

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the court’s decision dropping the charges against former President Mubarak?

MS. PSAKI: Well, generally, we continue to believe that upholding impartial standards of accountability will advance the political consensus on which Egypt’s long-term stability and economic growth depends. But beyond that, I would refer you to the Egyptian Government for any further comment.

QUESTION: So you don’t criticize at all?

QUESTION: What does that mean?

MS. PSAKI: It means that in general, we believe that courts should be —

QUESTION: It sounds to me like it means nothing.

MS. PSAKI: In general, we believe that impartial standards and the justice system should work as planned —

QUESTION: Yeah —

MS. PSAKI: — but I don’t have any specific comment —

QUESTION: But did —

QUESTION: But are you suggesting it wasn’t impartial?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more specifics on —

QUESTION: But I – wow. I don’t understand that at all. What does that mean? You believe that – of course you do. But was that – were those standards upheld in this case?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything – any specific comment on the case. I’d point you to the Egyptian Government.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) justice was served? Do you think justice was served in this case?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything specific on the case.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) not try —

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: — to argue with you or ask about the comment. Are you trying to understand what is – does – this decision means?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more for you.

Do we have anything more on Egypt?

QUESTION: Do Egyptians explain to you what’s going on?

MS. PSAKI: We obviously remain in close touch with the Egyptians, but I don’t have anything more to peel back for you.

QUESTION: Jen —

MS. PSAKI: Any more on Egypt? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, but I mean, Transparency International is basically disappointed with that. And some international organizations have also expressed concern over, like, dropping all the charges against Mubarak, who’s accused of having murdered – having ordered the murder of protestors —

MS. PSAKI: I’m familiar with the case, yes.

QUESTION: — and also corruption, other things. And so you’re not willing to show your concern over that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we speak frequently, including in annual reports, about any concerns we have about – whether its rule of law or freedom of speech, freedom of media, and we do that on a regular basis. I just don’t have anything more specifically for you on this case.

QUESTION: Can you see if – can we ask for – push your people a little bit harder? Because I mean, you call for accountability and transparency all the time from any number of governments. And so if no one is held to account, if no one is being held accountable for what happened, it would seem to me that you would have a problem with that and —

MS. PSAKI: If there’s more we have to say, Matt, we will make sure you all know.

QUESTION: But I mean, what you have said, that the – what you said says nothing. I mean, it just – it’s like saying, “Well, we support the right of people to breathe.” Well, that’s great, but if they can’t breathe —

MS. PSAKI: If we have a further comment on the case, I will make sure all of you have it.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: I mean, aren’t you a little bit annoyed that the person who was elected by the Egyptian people, Morsy, is languishing in prison while the person who is accused of murdering hundreds of people is actually out on —

MS. PSAKI: I appreciate your effort, Said. I don’t have anything further on this case.

QUESTION: No, the reason we ask isn’t because —

MS. PSAKI: Said, I’m sorry. We’re going to have to move on.

 

Tsk! Tsk! Can’t imagine Ambassador Boucher accepting that kind of crap from any bureau. Next time, make the talking points drafter write in Plain English so we, the natives would understand what our government is talking about. And by the way, President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act of 2010Adobe Acrobat Reader icon on October 13, 2010. That law requires that federal agencies use “clear Government communication that the public can understand and use.” This response is neither clear, nor usable.

So — if the talking points do not improve with plain language, go ahead and please kick the door.  And if that doesn’t work either, get Madame Secretary to sign  a reassignment order (apparently the Secretary of State does that kind of thing) and send the drafter and/or approving officer off to Angola.

Noooo, not/not to Portugal. And check the mike next time.

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 Updated below on 12/15/14 @ 2:09 am via Ali Weinberg of ABC News:

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State Department vs. Bill O’Reilly — Volleys Fired But Nothing to Do With Foreign Policy!

Domani Spero
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Apparently, there is a war going on between the State Department and Bill O’Reilly of Fox News and it has nothing to do with foreign policy or Benghazi! It all started with the following segment of the O’Reilly Factor. At the 2:04 mark, Bill O’Reilly says this:

“With all due respect, and you don’t have to comment on this,” O’Reilly told Rosen. “That woman looks way out of her depth over there. Just the way she delivers … it doesn’t look like she has the gravitas for that job.”

 

That did not sit well with Marie Harf, the deputy spokeswoman of the State Department, who fired a verbal projectile via Twitter:

 

On September 4, Ms. Harf also said this from the podium (mark 3:16 on this video clip):

“I think that when the anchor of a leading cable news show uses quite frankly sexist, personally offensive language that I actually don’t think they would ever use about a man, against the person that shares this podium with me, I think I have an obligation and I think it’s important to step up and say that’s not OK.”

 

We are not a devotee of Mr. O’Reilly, but when the deputy spox picks a fight with the the most watched cable news program in the United States, we’ve got to ask — what was she thinking?  The deputy spokeswoman of the oldest executive agency ever, cannot have a disclaimer saying “tweets are my own.” What she says from the podium and what she tweets are as official as it gets. So this verbal tussle with Mr. O’Reilly is not between her and the cable anchor. None of the headlines says Marie Harf vs. Bill O’Reilly.  It is officially between the State Department and the cable anchor.  Some people may even infer that this is a fight that the Secretary of State signed on. Whether that is true or not, we don’t know. What we know is if it’s from the podium, it represents the official view of the agency and the U.S. government.

And because the other person in the ring is a cable anchor, this is what you get. Watch starting at mark 1:13

 

Mr. O’Reilly called the WH spox, Mr. Earnest “befuddled,” saying “he doesn’t have a lot of credibility.” Mr. O’Reilly, of course, did not say “that man looks uncertain to me.”  We hope Mr. Earnest doesn’t take it upon himself to fire his own objectiles from the White House podium.

Meanwhile, WaPo’s Erik Wemple makes an important point:

“As a housekeeping measure, let’s toss the “personally offensive” claim right in the trash heap. In slighting Psaki, O’Reilly stuck strictly to her performance as a professional, something that is well within his ambit as a cable news anchor. If a SPOKESWOMAN cannot be evaluated on the basis of how she presents herself to the public, then nothing is fair game.”

 

Mr. O’Reilly did used the term “that woman” as opposed to saying , Ms. Psaki “looks way out of her depth over there.That Woman” is the title of the book on Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, one of the most vilified women in the 20th century. It is the title of a comedy drama movies in 1966 and in 2012.  “That woman” reminds us of “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,“in the 1998 chapter of presidential history.  We can understand why that phrase may be objectionable, but the professional person at the podium does not have the luxury of becoming personally upset in public.

One commenter over in WaPo makes a lot of sense:

[N]o State Department spokesperson should wade into a verbal conflict with an American opinion show host (O’Reilly is NOT a “Fox News anchor”) …not on Twitter, and certainly not from the SD press room podium. […] Had Ms. Harf not tweeted and her initial comments about his opinions had been in response to a press briefing question (unlikely), she could have just said, “We at State do not concern ourselves with the comments of an opinion show host. We have more important matters to attend to.” End of story; Harf looks like a pro. At this point, she looks like a teenage girl in a Facebook cat fight, and that reflects poorly on the State Department, the Obama Administration and our nation.

Ouch!

The official spokeswoman, Jen Psaki and her deputy Marie Harf came to the State Department from the Obama campaign.  Previously, Ms. Psaki was the deputy press secretary for John Kerry‘s 2004 presidential campaign and press secretary for President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.  Ms. Harf also worked on the 2012 Obama campaign.

People on the inside know that access means a great deal. It is not a given that assistant secretaries of public affairs and/or spokespersons see the secretaries they serve as often as they want.  The most notable exception may be Margaret Tutwiler who was Secretary Baker’s spokesperson and was famously quoted as saying, “If you’re a Ph.D. and have 17 degrees, the press doesn’t care,” she says. “They like to know that you have a fair idea of the person on whose behalf you are speaking. And I do know this President and this Secretary of State very well.”

Ms. Tutwiler later contributed to ADST’s Oral History project and here is part of what she said (pdf):

“I have said before, and I firmly believe it, that podium was not my podium, I was not elected to anything, I am staff and serve at the President’s pleasure as a political appointee and the Secretary of State. …. I believed that part of the spokesman’s job is how you come through that TV screen. If you don’t look convincing and are just mouthing words, then you are not doing your job.”

 

We understand that there are folks in the building who yearn for “spokesmen and [spokes]women that used to be — the class acts that they were” — presumably, an assistant secretary-rank spokesperson speaking on behalf of the United States. Some of Ms. Psaki’s predecessors include Ambassador Victoria Nuland, Philip J. Crowley, FSO Sean McCormack , Ambassador Richard Boucher , James Rubin, and Margaret D. Tutwiler. We do recognize that a spokesperson is only as good as his/her access to the Secretary.  What good is an ambassador or AS-rank spokesman or spokeswoman if the Secretary does not trust him or her?   Secretary Kerry picked these individuals as his spokespersons, that’s his prerogative.  But they also represent the voice of the State Department and the U.S. Government, and sometimes, we fell like the spoxes never got off the campaign trail.

For instance, last year, Ms. Psaki was caught in a lie and had to release another statement acknowledging that her boss “was briefly on his boat.”  (see It’s A Bird… It’s A Plane… It’s Not Superman On a Nantucket Boat Or How to Make a Non-News Into Big News). Asked where Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power was at one point, she was unable to answer a very simple question.  The point is, even on topics, where we, the public expect a straight-forward answer, the podium is unable to do so. Did Egypt had a coup?  Transparency, anyone?  Just a very brief one on the QDDR at the top of your head?  Folks, over in YouTube, the Jen Psaki Greatest Hits is now on Episode 24. It is not/not fun to watch.

We’d like to think that they’re doing the best they can at these jobs.  Whether we approve of their performance or not, we imagine this can’t be easy work; some days it’s a tour of the world’s ever growing hotspots and spitholes of miseries.  The reporters will push to get their stories, that’s their job; and hey, that’s expected, no need to accuse them of “buying into Russian propaganda.” Of course, the spokespersons will not always have the answers that the press want.  But that’s an old story.  Perhaps, the most important point worth noting here is no matter how shitty the days may be, the official spokesperson or deputy spokesperson of the U.S. Department of State cannot, and should not be the story of the day.

Why?

If nobody is listening to them because people are talking about them, then the spoxes are not doing their real jobs, which is spoxplaining the administration’s policies.

Well … okay then, back to watching the lighthouse. Here’s Johnny Nash’s Sun-Shiny day:

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